This collection of miniature wooden furniture, the largest of which stands 4 ¾ inches tall by 8 ½ inches wide, was handcrafted and painted by workers employed under the Work Projects Administration’s Museum Extension Project. Each piece is stamped with the project’s logo and bears a tag identifying the name of the object.
Established in 1935, the Work Projects Administration served as the largest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal agencies. At its height in 1938, the WPA provided jobs for 3 million unemployed Americans.
The museum extension project was one of the lesser-known sections of the WPA’s Women’s & Professionals Division and employed a wide variety of professionals including artists, sculptors, woodworkers and photographers. Twenty four states operated museum extension projects, but only a few ran large wide-ranging programs. In Pennsylvania, the project thrived, employing roughly 1,200 workers in 16 districts across seven production facilities.
Pennsylvania Museum Extension Project employees created a wide array of objects including three-dimensional models and miniatures of historic buildings, industrial machinery, furniture, charts, maps and slides for visual education. The items were distributed to tax-supported schools, libraries and museums throughout the state for use by educators. The idea was to, in a hands-on manner, bring alive for children the culturally-diverse and technologically-advanced society they were living in. Other workers acted as museum docents or provided assistance to museum professionals in operational tasks such as photographing and cataloging collections, cleaning and restoring exhibits and building display cases.
These four pieces of furniture, with their meticulous construction and careful attention to detail, provide wonderful examples of the sort of work the museum extension project produced. The pieces serve as visible reminders of the hope and help the WPA and the Museum Extension Project provided for so many during a dark time in our country’s history.
Collections Advancement Project Curator Jennifer Gleim selected this collection of miniature wooden furniture as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.